Friday, August 22, 2014

Day 30: What the f*** was that?!

Sunrise! Bright and shiny!
May 12: The day started with a long, steep drop towards the East Verde River. It was uneventful--just dropping for thousands and thousands of feet in elevation during several miles. The lower I descended, the warmer the temperatures became--no surprise there! As the morning wore on, the heat increased. By the time I hit bottom, even though it was still morning, it was getting uncomfortably warm.

The East Verde River was one of the bigger rivers that the Arizona Trail crosses, and it had no footbridge available either. However, I didn't even have to get my feet wet. The river was low enough that I could walk across on small rocks.

Then the trail climbed steeply in a series of "step-like" patterns. It would climb steeply for several hundred feet of vertical elevation gain, up to to a plateau, then go flat for several miles before climbing up the next steep step to the next plateau. It was kind of nice, too, alternating between a serious workout and a relaxing walk.

The color of the ground was something of a novelty as well. It started as "regular" dirt--a dirty white in color, then within about 10 or 15 steps, turned a dramatic red color as I apparently passed through a sedimentary layer. The red layer of dirt also had some freakishly weird-looking rocks with holes that made them resemble red blocks of Swiss cheese. Then the ground would turn white again--just as suddenly as it had turned red. It might stay white for a quarter of a mile, then turn dramatically red again. So far, this was the most fascinating geological discovery of the trail for me. The color changes were just so dramatic!

My one problem navigating these plateaus, however, was that the trail was all but invisible and started intersecting a lot of cow paths. The trail led largely to the north, but the grasslands covered the trail as much as the non-trails, and I spent an inordinate amount of time studying the grass. Did it look slightly more flattened in that direction? Maybe a little bit shinier in the sunlight? That might be the trail... or it might be another cow path. Ultimately, the most reliable method of following the trail became looking for cairns, and sometimes I had to really look for the next cairn. The next one would sometimes be hidden behind a bush or tree and impossible to see until you walked up to it.

I'd reach a cairn, then look towards the north for the next one or a hint of the trail through the grass. If I saw a cairn, I headed immediately for it. If I didn't, I tried to pick out what might be the trail and followed it vaguely north, sweeping my eyes diligently on both sides of the trail looking for the missing cairn. "Ah ha!" I'd shout into the wild. "There you are!" Then veer off to the cairn and begin the search anew.

A great example of "find the next cairn." The cairn here is obvious, but
do you see that one far off in the distance? That next one is actually
visible (not all of them were), and the Arizona Trail runs between the two.
But do you actually see a trail? No--it's just grass! I followed this "trail"
for miles like this--just moving from cairn to cairn.
At one point, while sweeping the sides of the trail intently for the next cairn, I saw something through the corner of my eye. I turned my head and looked directly at it, and my initial reaction was that it looked like a small bear, in the shade, hugging the bottom of tree. The bear was small, though--it had to be a cub. Which begs the question... where was mama bear?

But then I registered its face. It's face looked... wrong. It didn't really look like a bear's face. It's face looked more like a raccoon. A deformed bear? I thought.

As that thought passed through my head, though, I finally noticed its color. My eyes were adjusted to the bright sunlight and everything in the shade just looked dark, but now that I was focused on the shade, the color started to come out and it looked... red. Or maybe orange. An oranish-red. Not unlike the color of a fox. What the hell was this thing?!

You know how sometimes, you might see something you don't recognize. Maybe it's a bird, or a flower, or something. It might be entirely new to you, but you still recognize it as a bird or a flower or whatever the case may be. I stood there looking at this creature thinking.... I don't know what the hell it is! I don't even know what category of animal this is!

And, of course, I thought--I need a photo of this thing! I whipped out my camera and clicked it on, but before it fully powered on and I could get it to zoom into the animal, the creature let go of the tree and started running quickly away followed by a second creature. And I was dumbfounded once again because these things had tails! Not just a little tail, but the tail stretched high in the air and I could have sworn that the tails looked longer than the bodies of these animals. They were ridiculously long! And just then, they looked suspiciously like... monkeys. Moneys running across the ground. Or, more accurately, a bear/raccoon/fox/monkey hybrid running across the ground.

And I didn't have even one photo to show for it. What the hell did I just see? It seemed like something you might find deep in the South American jungle, but we were a hell of a long away away from any jungles and even further away from South America.

I sat down and immediately wrote down everything I could remember. I wanted to figure out what the heck this was when I got into town. I described it in detail, exactly how I remembered it. Thinking it was a baby bear, then noticing the raccoon face, then the redish-orange color of its fur, and finally it's exceedingly long tail in the air when two of them ran off. I even described in my journal exactly where I saw it, hugging the base of a small tree, and the fact that it ran across the ground away from me instead of climbing the tree. Maybe that would be important to know.

I pulled out my maps and tried to estimate as closely as I could exactly where I spotted the creature--it was definitely after Whiterock Spring at mile marker 445.0 (which I had already passed), but before MM 448.0 (where there was a water drainage dip on the plateau). Probably close to MM 447--closer to the dip than the spring. I used my topo map to find the coordinates of that location: 34.298 north and 111.525 west. Accurate down to three decimal places. Not bad for someone without a GPS. (Admittedly, the last decimal could be off plus or minus two. Those first two decimals are solid, though!)

And I even wrote down the time I saw them: 12:05 PM.

I wrote down every tiny detail I could think of--I was going to figure out what the heck that animal was if it was the last thing I ever did, and I figured it was better to have too much information about the sighting than not enough.

But it would have to wait until another day because for the time being, I was in the middle of nowhere. I couldn't log into Google to do a search. I couldn't call someone up who might know what this strange beast was. I was on my own and the only thing I could do at this point was keep hiking forward.

Look! It's a hiker! Okay, I'll fess up. It's me, taken with the 10-second timer
on my camera after I attached my camera to a bush. =)

Late in the afternoon, the only other strange experience happened while I was walking over one of the plateaus. The air was deathly still, then suddenly I was hit with a blast of wind on my right. Completely out of the blue. It took me by surprise, but it only lasted a few seconds before I was hit by another blast of wind, but this time from the left. That too only lasted a few seconds, then the wind stopped completely.

It was an eerie sensation--I'd never felt anything like that before. I felt pretty confident guessing what it was, though. I'd been seeing dust devils all throughout the day--I suspected I'd just been hit by a dust devil that didn't actually have any dust in it. The circular column of wind must have been rotating clockwise when it hit me from the right. After my body passed halfway through the column and the backside of the wind storm hit me, it changed to the left. Then it passed by me completely leaving the air calm again. It was a perfect explanation, but a wildly eerie sensation when you couldn't even see the miniature column of wind that hit you.

It was a day of strange sightings and experiences--that's for certain. And I didn't see a single person the entire day to tell my new stories to.

I set up camp for the night about 10 miles outside of the town of Pine. I didn't want to get into Pine too early in the morning--not before stuff had opened, at least--so I stopped relatively early in the afternoon to lengthen my walk into town the next day.

Each side of the East Verde River had mileage listed to the end of the trail
in that direction. 440 miles down, and just 360 to go!
The East Verde River wasn't a difficult water crossing!
Prickly Pear bloom
Nearing the top of the next plateau.

Whiterock Spring was dry!
However, that didn't stop these bees from swarming a small seep nearby!
I don't think I exaggerate when I say that I risked my life to get this photo....
(Okay, I might exaggerate a little, but if they all attacked... that might have been bad!)

Prickly poppy
The rocks that looked like Swiss cheese. (The red in the dirt and rocks
doesn't really show up particularly well in my photo--it seemed a lot redder
in person!)

Hedgehog cactus
These barriers helped prevent ATVs from entering a wilderness area
where they aren't allowed. These barriers mark the wilderness boundary.
A stock tank on the trail--not a particularly good-looking one either!
This photo really needs a funny caption. Any suggestions?
"I'm falling for you!"

I stopped early in the afternoon after a mere 19.2 miles of walking so I wouldn't
get too close to Pine. I didn't want to walk into town until everything in
town would be open for business. But there was no shade anywhere and it was
hot out, so I rested under the shade of my umbrella. =)
And just look at that beard growing in!
Once the sun got low enough in the sky, a nearby bush was able to cast a
long enough shadow to finally put me in shade without the umbrella.


The V's said...

Was it a ringtail?

Squatchis said...

It's a coatimundi. GT would have noticed a ringed tail if it were a ringtail.

(plus one of the labels is coatimundi, sorry for ruining the reveal)

That's pretty far north for coatis. Normally I would expect them in the sky islands in southern AZ (closer to the jungles of Mexico). But I guess the Verde River could provide the necessary habitat.

Anonymous said...

The chupacabra?

christmas6 said...

I was going to say Coati. We have some at our zoo and they are very cute.

Okie Dog said...

The leaning tree looks as if its trying to follow those clouds, saying, "Take me with you".
Beard looks good on you. Title...nice draw, lol...caught my attention, ha.

Anonymous said...

Coati. I remember as a kid seeing Disney's "The Living Desert" that introduced us to one, happily munching a tasty scorpion.

Jamie said...

Coatimundi! They are strange creatures that most don't know about. :) they are all over the sky islands down here near Tucson.